Although it has usual weaknesses as a musical film mainly depending on individual moments of music and choreography more than plot and characters, “Sunshine on Lieth” is not without charm and energy to entertain us. Its plot revolving around several romantic relationships is more or less than an excuse for its parade of various well-known songs by The Proclaimers, and it often feels contrived and superficial as juggling its plot lines, but it serves us with lovely feel-good musical moments while its background certainly gives it a nice raw touch of local flavor to appreciate.
After the moody opening scene accompanied with “Sky Takes the Soul” sung by a group of British soldiers on a mission in Afghanistan, the movie moves to a more lively scene showing the homecoming of two Scottish lads Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie), who have just returned to their neighbourhood in Edinburgh after finishing their military tour in Afghanistan. Regardless of whatever they endured during the tour, they are happy to come back to their dear city, and their jolly mood is nicely expressed as they lightly sing and dance with “I’m on My Way”.
Liz (Freya Mavor), Davy’s sister who is also Ally’s girlfriend, is happy to see them again as much as her parents, and she soon arranges a double date for introducing her brother to Yvonne (Antonia Thomas), Liz’s co-worker at a local hospital. As a girl from England, she is pretty much like a foreigner in Edinburgh, but she and Liz get along well with each other, and something clicks between her and Davy as they spend more time together along with Ally and Liz.
As trying to adjust himself to normal life like Davy, Ally begins to consider proposing to his girlfriend, but then there is one complication which will affect their relationship. Having always hoping for going around the world beyond Edinburgh, Liz recently comes across a good chance to get her wish; she applies for a position in some hospital in Florida, and that means she may be separated from Ally again, which naturally makes her conflicted between love and dream.
Meanwhile, we also look at the relationship between Liz and Davy’s middle-aged parents, who are about to have the 25th anniversary of their marriage. While there is no question about how much Robert (Peter Mullan, who was wonderful in “Tyrannosaur” (2011)) and Jean (Jane Horrocks from “Little Voice” (1998)) love and care about each other, it turns out that Robert had a brief affair he has been hiding from his wife for more than 20 years, and now he has to decide how to deal with this matter when he is notified that he has a grown-up daughter he has never known before.
It will not be much of a spoiler to tell you that all of these storylines will be driven to the point of conflict along with the big musical scene which mainly functions as the dramatic end of the first act. Things happen exactly in a way you can predict in advance during this scene, and the same thing can be said about the rest of the story; there are a number of artificial plot turns and melodramatic moments to be accentuated through music, and you can clearly see its predetermined finale from the distance.
This weak aspect of the film is mostly covered by its good cast members who also sing for themselves as well as the solid handling of musical scenes by the director Dexter Fletcher, but the movie feels clumsy especially when there is not music. While Geroge MacKay and Antonia Thomas have a nice romantic vibe between them as two different characters drawn to each other, the depiction of their relationship is actually the least convincing element in the film as it is thrown into one direction and then another one during a little too short running time. In case of Ronnie (Paul Brannigan from “The Angel’s Share” (2012)), Davy and Ally’s army friend discharged for his battle injury, his main function is merely giving a small dose of difficult reality to the story, and his brief scenes feel rather underdeveloped and redundant despite the inherent sense of loss and damage in these scenes.
None the less, the movie still works whenever its music is turned on. I liked that rambunctious pub scene featuring “Over and Done With”, and I also enjoyed another equally cheerful moment coupled with “Let’s Get Married”. Although Peter Mullan may be not a very good singer compared to his co-actors, his plain, gruff performance of “Oh Jean” is one of the key moments in the film as Robert expresses his deep, unadorned affection toward Jean through his singing in front of others. As Jean’s co-worker at the National Museum, Jason Flemying has a small fun with his flamboyant rendition of “Should Have Been Loved”, and Jane Horrocks has her own moment as Jean tries to sort out her mixed feelings through “Sunshine on Lieth”.
“Sunshine on Lieth” is based on Stephen Greenhorn’s jukebox musical with the same name (he also adapted it for this film). I did not have an opportunity to watch the stage version, but I can say that “Sunshine on Lieth” is a fairly solid adaptation with good mood and music to enjoy, and its earnest musical presentation fits well with those nice locations in Edinburgh. Although it is not something as wild as “Across the Universe” (2007), the movie is less tiresome compared to those slick, bland products such as “Mamma Mia!” (2008) and “The Jersey Boys” (2014), and you will probably find that it is not so difficult to accept its conventional ending as a certain very famous song by The Proclaimers is played on the soundtrack. I knew that song would make an appearance sooner or later, but, what the heck, it is a pretty good song I can always listen to, and the movie does its final job better than expected.